North Carolina tended to vote Republican in presidential elections for decades until Barack Obama turned it into a swing state in 2008, but Democrats have held the governor’s office for the past 20 years.
“If you are looking at states that are the biggest prizes in terms of governorships this year, North Carolina has to be at top of that list,” says Mike Schrimpf, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association.
Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the Republican candidate, leads in the polls by about 10 percentage points over Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, a Democrat.
Mr. Dalton had a competitive primary after the unpopular Gov. Beverly Perdue decided not to seek reelection. He has had a hard time keeping up with the fund-raising and building the name recognition that Mr. McCrory enjoys, having already run for governor in 2008.
McCrory’s “really selling himself as a pragmatic can-do problem solver … [with] no hard ideological edges,” says Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
Dalton is trying to make the case that the Republican-held legislature needs to be stopped from making more cuts to important areas such as education. He also put out a plan this week to prohibit sex-based wage discrimination, seek tougher penalties for domestic violence, and offer paid maternity and paternity leave to teachers and state workers.
If McCrory wins and the legislature stays Republican, as it probably will, it will be the first unified Republican government in the state in a century, Professor Taylor says.
Even if President Obama pulls off a narrow victory, it likely won’t be enough to tilt things in Dalton’s favor, he and others say.
Voting started in North Carolina Oct. 18.